Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I Don't Want More Professional Development

I Don't Want More Professional Development

After several failed attempts to post a comment to TeachPaperless, I decided to post here instead...

I believe we all should want more professional development (with no quotation marks).

Professional development or growth – learning - is personal (not social) and stems from social interaction for the most part. “Social development” is partly the (synergetic) result of personal development within the network and is partly the influence the network has on the individual. The development of one’s personal learning network can be viewed as professional development, but also can be too vague to have much meaning. Forming relationships, for example, does not automatically equate to professional development unless there is a formal system that links what an educator knows and what an educator can do to an improvement in student achievement.

The formal system that links what an educator knows and can do to higher student achievement is participatory action research (PAR). PAR allows educators the opportunity to goal/problem set, take action, collect data, and reflect on past actions and project on future actions. PAR bridges theory and practice in that it can tie general theory to a local context or vice versa. PAR sharing in particular is helpful to those professionals who work at a school or organization since typically missions and vision statements must be met as well.

“The world is not professional. The world -- at least our communal experience of it and of one another -- is social.”

I would argue that the world is made up of professionals as in those who work for a living, but I would also add that some people have vocations (a calling) as well. Learning is personal (not social) and occurs by connecting with people and constantly reflecting on the way information and experiences flow between these connections in a way that best suits the individual and society as a whole.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Classroom versus Online Learning of an Additional Language

The Internet is a fertile new space for the development of  effective and inexpensive learning solutions.

In order for this statement to have meaning, certain contextual dichotomies (not as discrete opposites but rather extremes that fall along a continuum) need to be addressed beforehand: (a) explicit/implicit learning, (b) native/non-native speaker, (c) instructed (formal)/naturalistic (informal) learning, (d) deductive/inductive inference, (e) concrete/abstract thinking, (f) declarative/procedural knowledge, (g) intentional/unintentional learning, etc.  Without considering these dichotomies, the risk is that some may interpret any use of technology as being fruitful.
It's been my experience that noticing, consciousness-raising, attention, etc. is best served through interaction (with human beings) which provides feedback, recasts, and positive/negative evidence back to the language learner.

The classroom, at great cost, reduces this spirit of independent learning and inquiry.

I guess this depends on who's teaching the class.  If we are talking affordances (i.e., potential for action), the classroom (with a teacher) offers more to motive students, provide strategies that lead to learners engaging in the language (in and outside the classroom), and help language learners notice differences between L1 and L2 in ways that better lead to intake (gasp).  I recognize that potentiality and reality are two different things, but the classroom can (and does in some cases) breakdown the barrier between formal and informal learning.  In other words, it's easier for formal learning environments (like schools) to incorporate informal learning than vice versa.

It will remain the job of the teacher (i.e., as didactic leader, facilitator, and coach) to play "curator" in orchestrating the learning ecosystem that evolves around the language learner.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Descriptive, Prescriptive, Semiotics, & Variation...Oh my!

Was asked this question online once. Thought I'd pose it here and get your input: There [is / are] a vase and a flower on the table.

Click on the link above to see the thread that led to my response below...

Ok, so  we are talking about (a) descriptive English (i.e., how English is actually used), prescriptive English (i.e., what the book(s) say), (c) idiomatic expressions, and (d) English variation.  Anita alludes to a syntactic (and semantic/pragmatic) alternative as well.  I've always been of the belief that it's better to discuss each of the above issues with students instead of having personal opinions sway me in any one particular direction.  As far as (traditional) testing is concerned, I've stuck with prescriptive English over descriptive for the most part but this has not refrained me from teaching students other varieties of English (American/British English, descriptive/prescriptive, etc.).

Personal opinions aside, how would you go about teaching these different expressions?  Or do your personal opinions lean you to one particular style of English being taught in your classroom?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Do Quantitative Findings Mean Anything?

52% of Online Language Learners Consider Classic Offline Learning as More Efficient

Without knowing the details of the study, my first reaction to this analysis is that macro findings say very little. A micro-analysis that reveals specific demographics would provide a deeper description. Even the question itself leads to ambiguity. For example, I could choose books as my first choice and podcasts as my second. But these choices do not indicate degree - do I think books and podcasts will help me about the same in the future or do I think there will a be a big different between the two? And what does each learner interpret as "efficient" learning? And the socio-economic aspect of this analysis is not phase 2 but rather an essential part of the main analysis, again at the micro level.

Your question is a legitimate on: "Do we tend to prefer learning using the tools and methods we grew up with?" Was this question part of the study? I've seen literature that supports the notion that we tend to teach the way we were taught, so I would suspect the same goes for learning over time. Regardless, since everyone learns differently, it's hard to draw conclusions even if we know we tend to stick to the same tools and behaviors as we've done in the past.

I'd be interested in knowing how learners currently take advantage of learning affordances now (to learn another language) and how do they forecast learning affordances for the future. A third question addressing past affordances would also provide a historical perspective.

Human behavior (e.g., learning) is simply too complex to generalize quantitatively in an analysis of this type - there are simply too many concomitant variables at play. The amount of detail what is required to draw any sound conclusions would require detailed information, information that I suspect Busuu is not willing to provide. :)

Note: It's been my belief that efficient and engaging learning (and the teaching that allows this to happen) looks about the same whether being delivered f2f, through blended courses, or at a distance.

52% of Online Language Learners Consider Classic Offline Learning as More Efficient

Friday, April 1, 2011

Top Criteria when Designing Professional E-learning Courses?

What do you think should be top criteria when designing professional e-learning courses (Both synchronous or non-synchronous)?

The most important thing to remember about providing professional e-learning courses is that there should be a consistent alignment of learning theories (e.g., behaviorism, cognitivism, critical constructivism, connectivism, etc.), methods (synchronous and asynchronous), and multimedia (web 2.0/3.0 tools, software, etc.) that is conducive to forming a learning community that takes the learner from being dependent, to independent, to finally interdependent. Such a learning community would be "open, diverse, interactive, and autonomous" (to use Stephen Downes's words).

I know, a broad answer (to a broad question), but we need to consider the whole ball of wax.

Note: I'm avoiding a detailed description of the method (synchronous and asynchronous) because it's only a third (actually less in my opinion) of the real issue: aligning learning theory, method, and media. These three impact each other as in it's all or nothing. We can't talk about one without mentioning the other two.